Sunday, October 23, 2011

A few weeks ago we went to the Arts Theatre (and it's not often I can say that) to see the new revival of Frank Marcus' notorious THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE.

Now I have to say that I have never liked the film - yes, I know it has Beryl Reid and Coral Browne in it but the sheer heavy-handed awfulness of Robert Aldrich's direction makes it a dreadful experience.

The play opened in 1964 with Reid and Eileen Atkins as her child-like girlfriend and the cast also included Lally Bowers as Mercy Croft and Margaret Courtenay as the neighbouring clairvoyant. A cast and a half who would more than be able to carry a play along no matter what it's deficits.

Sadly in Iqbal Khan's wonky production the performers don't have the confidence to grab the material by the scruff of the neck. Khan's direction is woefully uneven in tone and it leaves the performers all having to fend for themselves... some better than others.
Meera Syal's last stage performance was as a winning SHIRLEY VALENTINE but here she only fitfully engaged as June, the ageing actress facing the ignominious decision by her producers to bump off her popular character in a radio 'soap' series not unlike The Archers. Not helped by the ugly costume design by Pam Tait, she certainly suggested the desperation of June's situation but she seemed at sea with the odder elements of the character, namely the hints of sado-masochism between her and Alice.

By far her better scenes were with Belinda Lang who gave the best performance of the evening as Mrs. Mercy Croft, the woman from the BBC with a cut-glass accent and a redundancy letter in her handbag. Belinda Lang had no problems playing the villain but she played it with nice shadings of character and with killer timing.
Sadly the evening was scuppered by the am-dram performance of Elizabeth Cadwallader as Alice. It's a role that is as equally difficult to play as June as so much of the part is playing the girly-girl but with the ability to turn on a dime and show the character's predatory side, a survivor always on the lookout for the next protector. June's reveal at the end should also make dramatic sense but with the casting of the obviously young Cadwallader it simply didn't.

The casting of Helen Lederer as the spare-wheel character of Madam Xenia must be looked on as another of the production's problems. This utterly meaningless character was dropped from the film and Lederer's already - um - idiosyncratic performance style simply highlighted this character's absurdity.
And this was all played out on to a truly schizoid set design by Ciaran Bagnall - downstage an Agatha Christie touring production, upstage a standing set for RADIO GA-GA: THE MUSICAL.

The Arts Theatre has had an uncertain life recently with more threatened closures than hits. If they are banking on ho-hum productions like this as a lifeline then they had better think again.

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